Satellite: The Apartment Poets

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As dusk spreads a misty blanket across the dingy green buildings of Gatorwood Apartments, a small group of students climb the narrow steps leading to apartment 1908. Dog-eared books in one hand, and notebooks full of original poetry in the other, they meet in the two-bedroom apartment that’s adorned with old street signs from the University of Florida campus and huge Cuban posters. Salsa music pours out of a classic record player as cookie packages are town open and passed around.

One poet, Katrina Ruiz, opens up her first poem by doing a few salsa steps every few stanzas. Quick, fierce Spanglish curls from her lips as she tosses in a few curse words and preaches about the drama associated with being a woman. A visitor, Kadyzshea Cintron, nods to Ruiz staccato beat and hums in agreement. When Ruiz nears the end of her poem called, “Untitled” she lets her voice trail away and grins at those present before shyly settling down on the couch to listen to the next performer.

Welcome to a rhythmic session with the Apartment Poets, one of the newest spoken word groups to emerge in the Gainesville community, founded by three diverse poetry lovers who wanted to share their passion.

In addition to meeting regularly to share and critique their own work, the Apartment Poets have made a name for themselves by performing at different events including Downtown Latino, National Take Affirmative Action Day, Civil Slam-Voices in Action, Speak Out Against Hate, the Women’s Leadership Conference and various poetry jams.

The group started as a way for the three to get together, share poetry and play the bass. “One day we got a gig performing for an audience and we decided to make it official,” member Kristie Soares says.

They first performed for a women’s health forum called Shades of Womanhood in fall 2003. Member Danny Sanchez played the bass, while Soares and Ruiz performed their own poetry.

“I remember that we were sitting around practicing the night before, and we decided that our name would be ‘Apartment Poets.’” Says founding member Katrina Ruiz. “Then we opened it up so that others such as our friends Kevin and Aynar could join in.”

soon after, the group established a mission-to use their poetry for social, cultural, and political change, Soares added.

The group’s members say that their diversity is the main reason why they have done so well.

Saying the unsaid
Growing up with a Brazilian father and a Cuban mother, Soares mastered English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. She has written poetry since childhood and said she always felt it was the best medium for expression.

Soares has built on her experience and even performed at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. She also had the chance to speak to her idol, Sandra Cisneros, who she once met at a conference.

“She’s so blunt and passionate and says everything I want to say as a Latina woman-about sexually, gender, race, everything,’ Soares gushes, clutching one of Cisneros’ collections of poems, Loose Woman. She believes the writer gives a voice to groups who don’t usually speak for themselves.

Soares dreams of being on stage with Cisneros or another writer, Junot Diaz. Soares like his rawness and would “love to have an argument with him on stage.”

She also likes to model her own writings after his, saying she enjoys writing about things that are dirty and uncomfortable to hear out loud. She draws inspiration from people she sees in her normal life.

“Usually I write about women, just women I see around me in waiting rooms or in class,” Soares explains, pushing back long dark curls. “I write about what it’s like to be me, because actually peoples’ experiences are not as different as we think.”

Soared wants to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree and to eventually make a career in poetry. In the meantime, she shares her love of literature with the other poets. Rather than competing, Soares said they feed off each other; respond to each other’s freestyle, and create new pieces.

A unique vision
Like Soares, Katrina Ruiz has been writing since she could first grab a crayon. The Miami native didn’t realize her talent until middle school.

“I started taking poetry writing seriously in the seventh grade when I had as assignment that required me to really get involved with my writing,” she says. “Since that year I fell in love with poetry, both writing it and reading it.”

Ruiz also idolizes Sandra Cisneros. She says that the Chicana poet had broken cultural barriers and appealed to the mass market outside of the Latino realm, something Ruiz aspires to accomplish. She would like to perform with other great poets, including once here in Gainesville, Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, because he is great at “evoking emotions and making the words thrive off of the page.”

Ruiz never leaves home without her notebook, because she finds a lot of her inspiration while she is waiting for the bus or in class listening to other student. “The themes most present in my poems deal with social, cultural, and political background especially dealing with my own Jewish and Cuban upbringing,” she said.

To Ruiz, eating traditional arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is just as important as eating traditional kosher foods.

Eventually, Ruiz would like to become a professional writer and eventually a public speaker and professor.

Love for lyricism
Kevin Harris joins as the rhythm of the Apartment Poets. In addition to writing his own poetry, he expresses his talent through rapping. After attending some of the same classes as Ruiz, Harris decided to visit an Apartment Poet session and fell in love. He became an official member that same night.

“For me writing is about escape,” he drawls in a deep bass voice. “It’s how I represent myself.”

Harris has been pouring his emotions on paper for about 13 years and credits Robert Frost’s work as a driving force in his creativity. For Harris, it has always been about performing.

“After I joined the Poets, we sat down and decided that our mission would be to disseminate poetry to mass culture,” he explains. “I hate it when writers say that they write for themselves; you write to share.”

Appearing in Shakespearean plays in high school and rapping has helped Harris shape his stage presence.

“To me, performing poetry is easier than rapping because there are no expectations, but if you rap, people are more critical,” he says.

As a rapper, Harris has critical opinions himself about the current hip-hop scene. In his opinion, rap needs to rediscover its roots and step away from the pop culture commercialism. While he hates artists like Jay-Z, Harris applauds rappers like Mos Def, Talib Kwali, Tupac and Outkast.

“It’s not all about bling-bling or shooting people,” he says.

Harris models some of his work along the same themes that his favorite artists speak about. His poetry includes pieces of his own experiences as well as social and political satire.

He also tries to expose himself to other art forms by taking up painting, sketching, and trying his hand with watercolors and pastels to be a “Renaissance man,” he says.

Like the other Poets, Harris draws inspiration from people he sees on the bus and point that his professor make. But he says the main key is to “make love to the lyrics” and pour your soul into the words.

“Poetry is who we are and where we are going,” he says. “It is the language of life.”

Future Poets
The Apartment Poet’s next project is with JobCorps in Gainesville where the group will host workshops for area residents.

“It’s all about using our voices and having the voices of other heard,” Ruiz says.

Ruiz envisions the Apartment Poets will eventually branch out to other cities and reach over the nation through the Internet.

“I want to see the Apartment Poets reach new levels of activism and make poetry accessible to everyone, make those who love it love it even more, and those who never considered poetry to give it a second chance,” she says smiling broadly.

And Soares says that she hopes that the Apartment Poets will be around in Gainesville long after the original members have all graduated.

“I have this idea of a room full of poets of different ethnicities, class backgrounds, political ideas, and one of them comes up and reads a poem about being gay, and the rest of them are like ‘cool’,” she says gesturing in the air. “No hesitation, just acceptance, is what I want.”

–Ashley Cisneros
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.

By | 2017-04-28T07:32:47+00:00 May 15th, 2004|Categories: Blog, News, Samples|0 Comments

About the Author:

Ashley Cisneros Mejia is a journalist, entrepreneur and marketer. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later as an editor at Florida Trend business magazine. Ashley has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2009, as a technical writer, marketing manager, and public relations practitioner. She also founded two digital marketing agencies in Orlando. Named one of Orlando’s 40 Under 40 and honored by the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando for achievements in media and communications, Ashley earned a B.S. in Journalism and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida.

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